Friday, October 8, 2010

World View Collaborative (WVC)

Blog 19 --Religion in the Public Schools

The last two blogs featured discussions about ethical dilemmas that were generated and discussed in the framework of WorldViews Collaborative (WVC). Though I have already briefly introduced this organization two posts ago, let me elaborate a bit more.

WVC’s main mission at the moment is to promote the teaching about religions and worldviews in the BC public schools. I mention both “religions” and “worldviews,” for at least one group represented does not view itself as a religion so much as a worldview. I refer to the Humanist members, who also describe themselves as Atheists. While in our time Christians and Atheists are engaged in a pretty fierce battle, especially in books, journals and magazines, the members of WVC respect each other and their views, sometimes discuss them, but always amicably. This does not mean that we are lukewarm regarding our individual world views. In fact, we are all quite adamant and convinced within our own minds of the truth and value of our beliefs. None of us are world view slouchers. (From here on, I will avoid repetition of the term “religions and world views” by simply using “world views” to cover both of them.)

However, it came to the attention of the Atheist founder(s) of WVC that the people of BC do not really know much about what makes us all tick or what different people find important in their lives. Our public schools don’t help us in this regard, for religion is taboo there. Our schools are secular. Punkt. Religion has no place there. The system is said to be “pluralistic” and “neutral.” It emphasizes what we all have in common and ignores what separates us. As a result neighbours don’t know their neighbours; public school pupils don’t know each other either.

Nevertheless, according to these founders, though no worldview is overtly taught in our public schools, there is a strong Christian bias that permeates the school culture at the disadvantage of other worldviews, including Humanism. Of course, they are not the first to have noticed this. Especially at Christmas time, non-Christians often feel marginalized in our Public Schools and will either complain in the press or to their local school boards. It happens every year.

So, the solution that occurred to these Humanist friends of mine—yes, we have become good friends!—is to find a way to promote the teaching about all major world views in BC—Christian, Humanist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, all of them—in the Public School system. The purpose is not to convert anyone or to proselytize, but simply to present the main contours of each world view in an objective manner as information, so that pupils of different world views will get to know each other better, also later as adults.

Rabbi Dennis Prager once blamed certain “liberals” who are in charge of the system, apparently “liberals” of a different stripe from those who founded WVC as follows:

Liberals… are always talking about pluralism, but that is not what they mean. They mean “melting-pot.” Pluralism… means that Catholics are Catholics, Jews are Jews, Baptists and Baptists, etc. That’s what pluralism means—everyone affirms his values and we all live with civic equality and tolerance. That’s my dream. But in public school, Jews don’t meet Christians. Christians don’t meet Hindus. Everybody meets nothing. That is… why their children so easily inter-marry. Jews don’t marry Christians. Non-Jewish Jews marry non-Christian Christians. Jews for nothing marry Christians for nothing. They get along great because they both affirm nothing. They have everything in common—nothing. That’s not pluralism. But that’s exactly what the liberal world wants. They want a bunch of secular universalists with ethnic surnames. (Quoted by Paul Marshall in A. Van Ginkel, ed., Shaping a Christian Vision for Canada. Markham: Faith Today Publications, 1992, p. 20.)

So, the point of WVC is to make the citizens of BC aware of their differences as well as commonalities, so that we can know each other better. My neighbour to know what makes me tick and vice versa. Pupils will come to realize that these different world views represent deep depositories and traditions of truths and insight from which we can all obtain greater wisdom, even if we do not agree with all we hear. The various colourful parades and other events are not just “funny” things that Indians or Pakistanis do, but they represent depths of thought that would never have occurred to us. This project will hopefully take away the shrouds of secrecy and mystery with which we surround ourselves and remove the ignorance with which we observe each other. Exchange fear with respect and interest; suspicion with challenging dialogue.

For reasons I do not quite comprehend, the founder, retired Professor Ernest Poser of UBC and, before that, McGill, somehow found me and judged me a suitable candidate for this project. Perhaps he fell upon my website ( ). But I am glad he invited me, for I have enjoyed meeting this inter-religious group tremendously. For one thing, I have noticed that not all liberals, Humanists, Atheists and secularists are the same. There are tolerant ones amongst them, very gracious and compassionate. I write a lot about adherents to that world view and often quite vociferously. When these friends read my writings, I want them to know that my frustrations with their co-liberals are not aimed at them, especially not personally. Of course, the deep differences and disagreements remain, but we enjoy each other’s company. Poser and I especially enjoy our occasional souperamas either in our homes or in restaurants, during which we engage each other in great discussions. Thank you, Ernest!--as well as you, Kathy and Eric.

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